Is there any subject in an agency that gets discussed more than creative briefs? I've heard some grumblings recently and it's all very familiar.
The cycle seems to go this way:
1) Briefs are the root of all problems, the lightning rod for frustrations and complaints, the dumping ground for weak strategies and useless information.
2) It must be the format! We need a new brief!
3) Here's a beautiful new format: the great white hope, the panacea for everything.
4) Then people actually start using it, and think how the heck do I fill this out? What does that box mean? Why is there nowhere to put [insert pet topic here]?
5) At least one client says "I hate it - I don't get why you're always changing briefs. Keep using the old one."
6) Still, people use it as best they can, but everybody ends up using it differently. Confusion reigns.
7) Which eventually leads back to 1)
I've seen this exact process repeat itself at least 5 times. I don't know an agency that hasn't gone through it (and you can see some more discussion over at Faris'). So here's some more fuel for the fire. Maybe the problem is trying to use any one format at all. Is consistency killing us?
Personally, I think a brief shouldn't be set in stone - both the content and the format should be flexible. The content needs to be flexible because strategy and execution shouldn't be separated - you don't really know if you have the right strategy until you start trying to create against it, and sometimes the best strategic ideas come from playing around for a while with images and words and music. Creatives are some of the most interesting thinkers, why exclude them from the strategic process? The format needs to be flexible because while some basic housekeeping topics need to be covered off, each project is different and trying to use only one briefing format for everything is like trying to build an entire house using only one tool. We need lots of different tools. Why can't a brief be a postcard, a song, a poem, a picnic?
So in the spirit of adding some tools to our brief writing toolbox, here are a few great thoughts I've found recently on writing better briefs. First from Leland: present the brief as a question or a challenge. He makes the great observation that every case study starts this way, maybe briefs should too.
“How do you launch an unknown ring tone provider among marketing-savvy adults in
only 6 weeks when you are outspent 200 to 1?”
“How do you get people excited about owning a luxury hatchback when the entire American culture firmly believes that hatchbacks are cheap practical cars?”
“If casual dining has become the new fast food, how do you put the special-ness back into a steak dinner?”
Sure, sometimes we put stuff like this in the "Why are we advertising" box - but what if that is/replaces the proposition? Each of these questions has an insight about the target and a thought about the response we want to generate. But instead of telling the creative team exactly what to do/say ("Steak isn't fast food, it's special food!"), it
involves them in finding a solution. As he puts it, every creative
likes a challenge. This also makes sure we all have the discipline of figuring out why we are advertising, what the business issue is we're trying to solve (it's amazing how often this is unclear or gets skipped over entirely).
Another tack he mentions that I like to use sometimes is to frame it as a fight: "who/what are we against?" It's one thing to be for "fun times", it's another to be against boredom.
The other thought is an old post of Russell's back 2 jobs ago when he was still at Wieden + Kennedy and they were coming up with all the great Honda work. He talks about how they approached briefs.
The gist of it is:
2. Instead, use all of your senses, use pictures and music and metaphors. Non-verbal stuff usually packs much more meaning than words.
3. Pack briefs with lots of small insights and ideas, rather than narrowing down to one big one. This may sound counter-intuitive or worse, sloppy and unfocused, but it's not: you can have multiple insights and ideas around the same central theme or challenge.
Anyway, it's all fine and good for me to natter on about briefs, how about everyone else's experience? How about some creative people speak up - what do you like/hate in a brief? Tell us your opinions, leave a comment.